Former British gymnast Beth Tweddle has described Max Whitlock’s historic double success at Rio 2016 as “absolutely insane”.
Whitlock became the first Briton to claim an Olympic gymnastics gold with a surprise triumph in the men’s floor final on Sunday – a score of 15.633 enough for the 23-year-old to take top spot in the podium ahead of Brazilians Diego Hypolito and Arthur Mariano.
Yet Whitlock was not finished there and duly landed a second gold in the pommel horse final, as GB team-mate Louis Smith secured silver.
Reflecting on the spectacular achievement, Tweddle – a bronze medallist on the uneven bars at London 2012 – told Omnisport: “This is a huge moment for Max. For him to perform on two pieces of apparatus and become a double Olympic champion, it’s absolutely insane.
“It’s such a proud moment to be able to stand there and watch a British gymnast standing on an Olympic podium in gold medal position and hearing that anthem. I think I was more emotional watching his Olympic medal than when I actually won my own.”
Whitlock also finished third in the individual all-around competition at Rio 2016, having exceeded expectations by earning two bronze medals on home soil as a teenager four years ago, one on the pommel and one as part of the British team.
Tweddle added: “I remember Max when he was a junior and I remember watching him thinking ‘there’s something special about him’. He went to the Tokyo World Championships [in 2011], the year before London, and he was so disappointed he was picked as reserve and it made him a stronger character.
“He came back fighting. He didn’t want to be in that reserve spot so a year later at the London Olympics he got himself into that top five and what he achieved in London, I don’t think he realised how big it was and how important it would be in his career, picking up a team bronze and then a few days later picking up a bronze in the pommel final.
“Since then I think the belief within him and his coach has really grown. He’s Commonwealth champion, he’s European champion, he’s world champion, he’s British champion and now he’s a double Olympic champion, so he’s won absolutely everything.”
Britain had managed only four Olympic medals in gymnastics before doubling that tally in London. Thanks to Whitlock, Smith and Bryony Page, a silver medallist in the women’s trampoline, they have already claimed five medals in Rio.
“I’ve been involved in British gymnastics for over 20 years and to see that gymnastics has been one of those [sports] that has been celebrated the most [in Britain] .. it’s so nice,” said Tweddle.
“It’s a special moment for me to sit here on the other side of the fence and see my sport doing so well. It’s really hard to put it into words, what it means.”